Monday Bacon: Lessons From Dean

Dean and Sam

About a week and a half ago, I was up around 4:30am to get ready to head out to Orlando for the first Highland Games of the season. The morning was tense and made tenser (totally a word) by the fact that I decided to clean up the kitchen and floors before I left. Suddenly, my “let’s leave at 5:45 to get to the airport around 6 or so for my 7am flight” plan went straight down the shitter. We left the house around 6am and even for me (I hate hanging around airports for hour(s) before flights), it was getting a little tight.

Thankfully I had my coffee for the ride (another reason why I was running late) and as I was taking my first sip in the car, Matt softly says to me, ‘I know you didn’t see this yet but Dean Bennett died last night.’ We were at the stop sign, me drinking coffee, late for the airport, and BOOM! The floor just dropped out.

Now, I will be the first to admit that Matt and I didn’t know Dean as close as others. I don’t know what his favorite color was; I don’t know where he and his wife, Mary, met. We ran around with some of the same people but often not at the same time. What I DID know about Dean was that he was someone who had a complete handle on those around him. Which, of course, attracted you to him. He was always interested in what’s happening with YOU but at the same time happily discussed what was happening to him.

He never forgot a conversation and would be one of the first to celebrate with you or tell you you’ll get ’em next time when struggling at an event. He had so many interests, I wonder if he just assumed that he had 36 hours in a day compared to the rest of us that are able to squander away 24.

Dean loved the strength world. His T-shirt line, Atomic Barbell, was a way for him to be involved with the STRONG of the world and he relished in it. He would pack up his “Atomic Cadillac” (Cadillac’s were another interest of his. I had taken a picture of a Cadillac carrying a newlywed couple in Iceland and told him it made me think of him. He was so excited you’d have thought I’d just handed him a million dollars. But that was Dean, so happy to be thought of) and road trip all over to sell his shirts and give support and help where needed at events.

We always knew which sports season his now 16 year old son was in by the photographs and scores updates on the Facebook. He was so proud of Colin. We always knew how in love with his “bride”, Mary, he was by his many posts giving thanks for her and singing her praises. There was not one ounce of insincerity in his body and to be around such a good person is a gift. To hear that he no longer walks the earth was something that took some time to fully comprehend. When I got to the airport and had a spare moment, I looked on the FB for some sign that this was a weird joke.

Nope. Dean was gone.

This past Friday was the funeral. Now, in general, funerals are sad. They’re kind of supposed to be. If, when I go, there is a funeral and no one is sad I’m going to be super pissed. There are the stories that make you laugh. The memories that make you wish for one more conversation; one more hug; one more chance to let the person know that it was important to you that they touched your life. People speak, with humor, of the person’s shortcomings (Dean could talk, and talk, and talk. Once, at a surprise party for our friend Sam, Dean started talking about one of his favorite events, (Relentless Powerlifting Meet) and after about 20 minutes I bailed to the bar. I think Matt sat and listened for at least 45 minutes and they both finally got up and started to mingle. But that was Dean, he was a talker and loved to share his passion. While I wouldn’t see this as a shortcoming, it was joked about.

Hearing Dean’s close friends and family share their love and heartbreak with the rest of us makes you love him all the more and wish desperately that he was still here to tell him. Seeing his son look longingly at the open casket as it was being wheeled away, knowing this was the last chance to see his father in physical form yet wanting to remain strong for his mother, well, it was horrible. Shell shocked, that is the only term I can think of when looking at those Dean left behind.

But Dean left many lessons too and as we listened to the stories, we took them in. Be kind. Be interested in others. Be passionate for life. Work on things you may not be good at (Dean had set up a training session with another friend that very Saturday morning to work on his bench press. In general, Dean didn’t train very often but that when he did, he wanted to do it as well as he could.) Get out. This is a big one for Matt and I. We don’t get out often. And it’s not a winter thing, it’s an ‘us’ thing. Get out. Be social. Invite others into your lives. Broaden your interests. Seek out the friends in your life.

For us, it could be something so little as heading over to Kirk’s at Winners Edge gym on a Strongman Saturday and hang out with the crew. But that’s two hours of connecting that we don’t usually do and it needs to change. Have lunch with friends (after the funeral we went for lunch with Sam McMahon for custard shakes and burgers. It was a great lunch with great stories but I was tummy ached the rest of the day from the food. Next time I order a salad;) Most of all, make sure our friends are okay. Do they need anything? Celebrate with them more,  and sit in front of the tv or in front of a book just a little less.

One of the stories I heard about Dean was that he called a friend out of the blue one weekend and said, “Let’s go play laser tag.” And they did! A man 50+ wanted to go and play laser tag. So he did! I love that! Play. Have fun. Do something that makes you laugh (but not bowling. Kirk just blew a bicep bowling so that’s off the fun list for now.) Connect. Keep an eye on Colin. Make sure we’re at his sporting events. No, it won’t replace the one face in the crowd that he’ll be searching for. But it will let him know that his fan club is there for him. Be consistent. Be lasting.


Go out of your way. Honor Dean and his lessons.

My Uncle’s dying wish-he wanted me on his lap. He was in the electric chair.

Rodney Dangerfield  

About tosabarbell

For training opportunities at tosabarbell, call or text Juli at 320-296-9313. e-mail to At tosabarbell, I build relationships cultivated in a strength and learning environment. There is no 12 week magic pill program to strength but rather a lifetime commitment to be the very best and most useful human you can be. tosabarbell is a private, home grown gym with three lifting platforms; squat rack; prowlers; throwing implements; bars, bumpers and everything else needed for an effective strength and conditioning program. Straightforward barbell programming including the Olympic lifts; sound (read: not fancy bullshit) diet advance for weight gain or loss; and strong coaching will ensure you will meet your goals such as becoming stronger, more explosive, and better conditioned. I have been coaching teams and athletes for over 30 years. I grew up participating in various sports at various levels but was always drawn to those that require strength training. I have multiple local, national, and world records in the sports of Weightlifting and Highland Games Heavy Events as well as a combined total of 5 World Championships. My 5 years of training and coaching under Mark Rippetoe provided a wide range of influence from some of the top strength & conditioning and throwing coaches in the country. I will strongly encourage tosabarbell athletes to compete (and prepare you to do so.) However, tosabarbell is also for those who wish to be stronger and go through life feeling better. Matt WanAt is a retired Professional Strongman who competed frequently with Strongman Champions League in Europe. He played a year of D1 football with Iowa before concentrating on his Chemical Engineering degree in Iowa City. He is a native of Wauwatosa and still remains a staunch supporter of Tosa East. This blog will be a mixture of strength notes, coaching and nutrition tips, personal shit; bacon delicacies, and a whole lot of fun.
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